By Cyan Night
Several decades ago, I was a teenager in art school. We studied European art history enthusiastically, from the Renaissance grand masters through to Pop Art that emerged in Britain in the mid-1950s.
Once, my classmates and I gathered together after school and discussed the wonders of how art would, in a few hundred years, evolve from the likes of the Mona Lisa and the high ceilings of the Sistine Chapel to the display of a urinal (otherwise known as the ‘Fountain’ by Marcel Duchamp) in a prestigious art gallery in 1917.
We came up with ‘Whart’, a portmanteau of ‘What’ and ‘Art’, a word perhaps used in exasperated exclamation when one is trying to grapple with the concept of ‘What is Art?’
‘When I was a child, I could draw like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to learn to draw like a child’ – Pablo Picasso
Melbourne was recently graced by the presence of a series of artworks by Pablo Picasso, one of the most famous artists in European history. To most people, he is known for his child-like drawings and occasionally distorted faces of seemingly unnatural perspective and proportions. We often hear a layman wonder out loud whether or not Picasso can even draw. In the exhibition at the NGV, when one looks at the early works of Picasso, it is apparent that he indeed, had the ability to sketch the human anatomy and possessed realistic painting techniques. However, after over four hundred years since the early Renaissance, artists in Europe were finally bored of simply painting their subjects as accurately as possible. Picasso’s career, based mostly in Paris, was during the height of modern art, when he rubbed shoulders with many contemporaries who shared his tedium of the classical style of art. Furthermore, with the emergence of the camera as a common tool, paintings as a form of documentation became obsolete. It was an interesting time when some painters still tried to paint as realistically as possible while photographers endeavoured to make their photographs more painterly.
What is Art?
Art is generally understood as the use of the imagination to express ideas or feelings, commonly in painting, drawing or sculpture. After still photography, the invention of television and moving images further blurs the line between communication, propaganda and art. In recent years, the revolution of handheld devices and social media has brought about a new dimension to what we have, for the last hundreds of years, held in high regard as ‘Fine Art.’ When artists are able to express their points of view via virtual mediums such as short reels or digital graphics, evoking a response from a potentially enormous group of audience members worldwide, is it still worthwhile to have drawing skills, to perfect the crafts of oil painting or to learn the inner workings of the single-lens reflex camera?
Art in Inner West Melbourne
Once upon a time, graffiti was mostly regarded as vandalism. Perhaps before the times of social media, it was simply an avenue, albeit an illegal one, for an unknown individual to express their points of view. In the present day, not only do we reframe the concept of graffiti as street art, we welcome it as a shared expression of identity. On the various Footscray campuses of Victoria University, there is ‘Ms Citizen of the World’ who represents the cultural diversity of VU, as well as Franco Cozzo, a local well known furniture retailer. Soul Scissors in Seddon displays their contact number with graffiti-style street art at the side of their store, except no one really sees that as an advertisement. Each time the Western Bulldogs reach the AFL Grand Final, we see the appearance of more murals of bulldogs, well-known players and the red, blue and white colours. As a community, it is apparent that the Inner West embraces the use of visual art to express what we feel about ourselves.
The answer to the question ‘Whart’ will forever remain subjective. Without venturing into the philosophical aspect or attempting to define art in a complete and absolute manner, one could consider pondering over this question at a time of rest. Take the opportunity to absorb the beauty and aesthetics in our everyday lives. Contemplate whether a person with no conventional artistic training could express their thoughts in a creative method that may be relatable to and appreciated by the general public.